GP surgeries and hospitals are seeing the first surge of winter flu, with the highest number of cases so far in the season since the swine flu pandemic in 2009.
While the strain responsible for the pandemic, H1N1, has largely disappeared, it has been replaced with a new influenza A strain from the northern hemisphere, H3N2, which is making up half of all laboratory-tested cases in WA.
The Health Department said flu cases had picked up in the past few weeks after higher than normal activity over summer and autumn.
It is urging people, particularly those at higher risk of complications from flu, to get vaccinated.
"Both laboratory detections of influenza virus and reports from general practice of influenza-like illness have increased over the past few weeks and current levels are higher than what was experienced at the same time in the past two years," a spokeswoman said.
"Other winter viruses, such as respiratory syncytial virus, are also increasing and contributing to the burden of flu-like illnesses in the community."
Australian Medical Association WA president Richard Choong said GPs were reporting a significant rise in respiratory illnesses ranging from coughs and colds to flu and whooping cough.
"We need to advise people who are sick to try to minimise your contact with others, so that means going into work isn't advisable," Dr Choong said. "Also, we're reminding people about hand hygiene."
He said it was not too late for people to have their flu vaccination, which was strongly advised for people with chronic diseases.
AMA WA past president and emergency doctor Dave Mountain said hospitals were only seeing the start of the winter flu season but were already struggling to cope.
Health Department figures show a surge in attendances at metropolitan emergency departments in the past few days, with about 1700 patients last Sunday and 1600 on Monday.
Dr Mountain said there was little spare capacity and he did not know how hospitals would cope, particularly with flu season picking up early."Hospitals in the Eastern States are under the pump and we're usually a bit behind them time-wise, and I can see hospitals here falling further and further behind in meeting the four-hour rule targets," he said.
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